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Shakespeare’s ‘Othello Tower a symbol of trust’ (Updated)

By Evie Andreou

The 14th-century tower that is the fictional setting of Shakespeare’s play Othello reopens next month after undergoing renovation following decades of decay in Famagusta.

Part of a fortress in the mediaeval city, the tower has been undergoing emergency stabilisation for the past year to protect it from extensive water damage.

“This is part of our common heritage,” said Glafcos Constantinides, a member of bicommunal cultural heritage technical committee – the joint Greek and Turkish Cypriot team tasked with salvaging monuments on both sides of the island – showing it off during a press preview on Wednesday.

“Our heritage comes from the past, but also what we expect to build in the future.”

Party representatives and Famagusta municipal officials from both sides of the divide toured the newly renovated Othello Tower on Wednesday at the invitation of the Slovak ambassador in Cyprus, Dr Oksana Tomova.

The visit was part of the Slovak Republic’s initiative ‘Dialogue for Peace’, which facilitates dialogue between Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot political parties.

Famagusta’s mayors, Alexis Galanos and Ismail Arten, members of the bicommunal cultural heritage technical committee and officials from the EU and UN, which funded the restoration, all took part in the tour.

The imposing fortress was built by Lusignan conquerors in the 14th century. It was remodelled and expanded in the 15th century by the Venetians, whose winged Lion of St Mark emblem is still clearly visible, carved over its portal.

“Our biggest challenge was the rainwater. The complex absorbs it like a sponge,” said Fatma Terlik, contract manager for the project.

A drainage system was installed, together with work to restore some of the walls of the building.

The tower is to open to the public in July 2 with a performance of the Shakespearean drama by young Turkish and Greek Cypriot actors.

The restorations were carried out by the bicommunal technical committee, the European Commission and the United Nations Development Programme Partnership for the Future (UNDP-PFF).

Programme manager of the UNDP-PFF Tiziana Zennaro said that the total cost was around €1m and that the whole project was a huge undertaking. More funds were needed, she said, but with phase one now completed it could be opened to the public.

“At the time when Cypriots of both communities are inspired by the prevailing positive momentum of a new hope for a comprehensive settlement, our programme promotes the concept of a peaceful cooperation and partnership of both communities,” ambassador Tomova said.

She called the visit ‘symbolic’ and said the restoration works of the Othello tower funded by the EU, “is an example of an enormous contribution by relevant partners to the preservation and restoration of the cultural heritage of all communities in Cyprus”.

Turkish Cypriot Famagusta mayor Ismail Arter said that he was happy to receive everyone and that a non-political atmosphere in the country would help people move forward.

“We are here on a mission of peace,” said Greek Cypriot Famagusta mayor Alexis Galanos.

He added that the project supported the two leaders Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci in their own efforts.

Slovak Ambassador Dr Oksana Tomova, Turkish Cypriot Famagusta mayor Ismail Arten and Greek Cypriot Famagusta mayor Alexis Galanos at Stylloi  village
Slovak Ambassador Dr Oksana Tomova, Turkish Cypriot Famagusta mayor Ismail Arten and Greek Cypriot Famagusta mayor Alexis Galanos at Stylloi village

“Our mission today, part of it, is to continue … with the hope we are giving a last chance to Cyprus,” Galanos said.

Alessandra Viezzer, the representative form the European Commission office in Cyprus, praised the work of the technical committee, saying the renovation showed what “wonderful things Cypriots can do when they put their minds to it”.

“It is valuable to see cultural heritage, from an element of division, has become actually an element of trust building,” she said.

Following the tour at the Othello Tower, the group was accompanied by members of the ‘Bicommunal Famagusta Initiative’ for a walk within the walled city of Famagusta.

The initiative members said they supported the opening of the Derynia checkpoint and called on the two leaders to jointly apply to UNESCO to include the walled city in its list and to take action to revive Varosha ghost town.

Ayios Varnavas monastery complex, which dates back to the time of the saint himself, was the next stop of the group. The complex, just outside Famagusta, was built in the 5th century AD but got its present form in 1756.

The church has been turned into an icon museum while the old monks’ quarters are now an archaeological museum.

Last stop on the tour was Stylloi/Mutluyaka village in Famagusta, where the Turkish Cypriot mukhtar Erkin Sabakli welcomed the group which included Greek Cypriots who used to live in the village before 1974, including its Greek Cypriot mukhtar Michalis Efstathiou.

DISY representative George Karoullas described how he had been born in the village and was two when his family left due to the war and that his grandfather had been the village’s priest.

“We have to accept each other, 41 years is enough, we want peace, we want federation, we want reconciliation, we want prosperity in our island,” Karoullas said.

Greek Cypriot refugees from Stylloi escorted Tomova and the party representatives to the village’s church, an imposing building dated1921, which is dedicated to Prophet Elias.

Entering the church courtyard was emotional for several villagers who faced broken headstones, and an empty church with no glass in the windows.
“We have asked for permission to place glass or at least fibreglass on the windows to keep the birds out and protect it from the elements of nature, I hope we get it,” said Efstathiou.

The day ended with a small reception at the village’s mukhtar’s office, where snacks and beverages were offered to the visitors by the residents of the village, who had gathered to greet the group.

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